I was thinking (always a good sign) after doing research on Dead Internet Theory about how ‘normal’ happens, and went looking for answers a lot further down the rabbit hole than planned.
But I found something.
About forty years ago (holy shit!) I read a science fiction novel that asked a question that haunted me for decades: not whether I am normal, but whether normal is me? I don’t remember the author or title but it was about a boy my age who became host to a parasitic alien.
I’ve met enough normies and abnormies now to know that the question (normal is me) is not untrue, just incorrectly framed. I became of the view that normal is we. Or used to be until about ten years ago, when ‘normal’ became the by-product of a greedy algorithm.
To use one industry as an example, the pandemic triggered an explosion of content on sites like OnlyFans. But the rise of amateur, non-studio adult content had begun a decade ago, and what was a side-hustle morphed into hyper-lucrative careers for those who cracked the code.
They all began by looking in from outside the industry and discovering what’s ‘normal’ on the website at that moment. Normal, as defined by popularity not by the standards they brought with them.
I’m sure a lot of newbies had an ‘Oh my!’ moment and turned away. Some would have a definite sense of what they wanted to do, and where their limits lay. But many if not most would go to the site to make as much money as possible, and be absorbed into its normal.
Those who remained soon noticed that creators who made the most money were always pushing the envelope. Reinventing themselves constantly. For example, they probably also noticed fairly quickly that natural good looks and enthusiasm only got you so far.
Tell a cash-strapped single mum that investing in fake boobs and Botox could add a digit to her OnlyFans revenue, and what do you think she’ll do? Abnormal becomes normal, and once that scalpel begins it’s work, the original you is gone.
But her new normal is feeding the kids, right?
What happens when the ‘popular’ list drift toward cosmetic homogeneity? They become boring = less lucrative. Somebody leads the pack to a more extreme normal. More extreme, because nobody goes back to modelling lingerie after making $75K a week doing fisting videos. Ask Lisa Ann.
All because of an algorithm that simply confirms what’s popular (ie. most lucrative for the site) and forces content in that direction. Every new consumer or creator steps into the middle of a fast-flowing river. By the time they step out, they’re nowhere remotely close to where they began.
I would argue that this happens across every industry with an Internet presence. It happens overtly wherever you find the button that takes you to ‘Trending’ or ‘Top 10’ or ‘What’s Hot Right Now’ — but it also happens covertly, with advertising that stalks you across websites.
Just imagine life without cookies. Without aggregators or SEO, hits or likes. You could just wander the internet freely and anonymously, and not be channelled and corralled towards certain content by a thinking machine.
Of course, we invented those machines. But did we think it through? Did we realise that our reality would become defined by for-profit formulae? Our love lives destroyed by OnlyFans. Our dress sense ruined by ASOS.
I don’t ask whether ‘normal is me’ anymore, I ask if ‘normal was us’?